Jenny Lambert June 10, 2016

One of the most important indicators of your dog’s quality of life is their ability to get up and move without pain. Critical to that ability is healthy muscles, nerves, bones, and joints, and dysfunction in any one of those components can cause weakness, pain, or inability to move.

A normal joint is made up of soft tissues, hard tissues, and joint fluid, and functions to facilitate movement of bones and support the body. The soft tissues are made up of tendons, ligaments, and the joint capsule. The hard tissues consist of the cartilage and underlying bone, and function as shock absorbers to facilitate gliding. These hard and soft tissues can weaken over time due to injury, development disorders, or even general wear and tear. Joint health is important for every dog, and needn’t be a problem for your pet if cared for and supplemented correctly.

Is my dog at risk?

Large breed dogs are more at risk for degenerative joint disease, due to genetic disorders and a consequence of size: more weight on the joints equals more wear and tear. Certain development disorders, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, cause problems in the joint which lead to abnormal wearing on the cartilage and osteoarthritis. Other conditions, such as injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (a key part of the knee) in dogs, lead to joint instability which causes inflammation and if not repaired, osteoarthritis, pain, and loss of function. Osteoarthritis causes pain and an inability to move in both people and dogs. Watch out for signs of stiffness, difficulty getting up, limping, exercise intolerance, and changes in behaviour, such as grumpiness or sleeping more. Sometimes, the signs of osteoarthritis in dogs can be subtle, and we may not recognize the signs until it’s too late. Osteoarthritis is highly prevalent in dogs, and is a chronic, painful, degenerative, and inflammatory disease and leads to the loss mobility. If your dog has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, or a condition that can lead to its development, it is important to recognize the signs as early as possible in order to give your dog the best chance at a good quality of life. It is especially important to partner with your veterinarian to decide which treatment will be best for your dog.

How supplements can help

Nutritional supplements are recommended to both promote healthy joints, and help reduce pain and inflammation in a dog that has demonstrated joint disease. Another word for nutritional supplements is ‘nutraceutical’, which is defined by the North American Veterinary Nutraceutical Council as a “nondrug substance that is produced in a purified or extracted form and administered orally to provide agents required for normal body structure and function with the intent of improving the health and well-being of animals”. Nutritional supplements are naturally occurring substances that are eaten to promote health.

A recent review of dietary supplements from 2004 to 2014 showed that dietary supplements should be considered in the management of osteoarthritis in dogs1. When administered as directed, or in conjunction with other recommended therapies, such as surgery, pain medications, physical therapy, weight control, etc. supplements can make a substantial difference to your dog’s overall quality of life.

Introducing glucosamine

One ingredient that is commonly found in human and canine joint supplements is glucosamine. Glucosamine is a sugar that is naturally found in large quantities in healthy cartilage, however it only occurs in small amounts in a dog’s regular diet. Glucosamine can help to reduce inflammation, swelling, pain, and provides protection to existing cartilage. A 2007 randomized double-blind study, with positive control in 35 dogs treated with oral glucosamine chondroitin supplement, showed statistically significant improvements in scores for pain, weight-bearing, and severity of the condition by day 702.

Perhaps your dog does not suffer from osteoarthritis? There are plenty of reasons why it still may be beneficial for them. Glucosamine is often recommended if your pet has a developmental disorder, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, or injuries they may be predisposed to the development of osteoarthritis. What’s more if you own a large breed adult dog, working service dog, your dog competes in agility and flyball, and or is a hunting dog over the age of 2, their joints will benefit from glucosamine supplementation. Whatever dog you may own, it is advisable to start supplying them with glucosamine as early as possible to protect and prevent any damage to their existing cartilage.

There are many brands of glucosamine supplements out there, however, there is a wide disparity in purity and bioavailability, which is critical for effectiveness and safety. Therefore it is essential to research different supplements before deciding on which one is best for your dog. For more information on how to best care for your pet, take a look around our articles.

1Comblain F, Serisier S, Barthelemy N, Balligand M, Henrotin Y. Review of dietary supplements for the management of osteoarthritis in dogs in studies from 2004 to 2014. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2016 Feb;39(1):1-15. doi: 10.1111/jvp.12251. Epub 2015 Jul 23. 2McCarthy G, O'Donovan J, Jones B, McAllister H, Seed M, Mooney C. Randomised double-blind, positive-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis. Vet J. 2007 Jul;174(1):54-61. Epub 2006 May 2.

Author info: Sarah Wooten is a small animal veterinarian and certified veterinary journalist. She is a 2002 graduate of the prestigious School of Veterinary Medicine at University of California in Davis. She practices in Greeley, Colorado part time at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital and writes for multiple online and print publications.

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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